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80 Reasons Why John Williams Is The Man
We mark the movie maestro's 80th birthday with a celebration of his classic pieces

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The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)
First heard in: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Imperial March is so ingrained in pop culture in general and film music in particular that it is easy to forget that Darth Vader's barnstorming theme didn't arrive until the second (fifth) Star Wars movie. Williams composed a stomping imperial theme for A New Hope — it accompanies the Falcon entering the Death Star— yet it became the only major motif that didn't recur for the sequel. Instead, given the Empire's return with a vengeance, Williams composed a brand new bellicose piece of controlled aggression driven by brass, percussion and an unrelenting triplet figure that doesn't let up, even in the quiet middle bit. It stands not only for evil incarnate, it has a grandiose, self important bombast that makes it a favourite in sports stadia, political addresses and Navy recruiting ads. It has been covered by heavy metal legends, disco funksters, dogs and memorably remixed for Spaced. For the prequels Williams cleverly performed a remix of his own, inserting the March's musical ideas into both Anakin's Theme (check out the last four notes) and Episode II's Love Theme, subtly reminding us of the boy's destiny.

Listen to an excerpt:


Presenting The Hook
First heard in: Hook (1991)

If you listen to Hook, there are certain passages, full of high drama and touching poignancy that sound anything but a family adventure movie. Happily, there are also moments of pure pantomime. When sidekick Smee parades the captain's Hook on a cushion through pirate town towards its owner, Williams delivers colourful cartoonish accompaniment almost leading the bumbling pirate on a merry dance.

Listen to an excerpt:


  The Olympic Fanfare And Theme
First heard in: The Los Angeles Olympics (1984)

Williams has scored much music for fictional sporting events — a whimsical tennis match in The Witches Of Eastwick, the pomp of Podracing in The Phantom Menace and Quidditch in Harry Potter, an impromptu football match in Stepmom — but he also composed the world's biggest sporting spectacle, the Olympic Games, this time in Los Angeles in 1984. Before starting Williams had restrictions imposed on him; it had to include an opening fanfare to be played by herald trumpets and it needed to cut into bite-sized pieces that could work as stings to bookend ad breaks. Williams solution is the great Olympic theme, starting with a trumpeted fanfare, then segueing into a broad noble theme that for Williams represents "the spirit of cooperation, of heroic achievement, all the striving and preparation that go before the events and all the applause that comes after them." The BBC agrees: it invariably wheels the theme out as they round up the nominees for Sports Personality Of The Year.

Listen to an excerpt:


Sayuri's Theme
First heard in: Memoirs Of A Geisha (2006)

Steven Spielberg had circled Arthur Golden's novel about a young girl sold into the life of a geisha for years so John Williams' attachment to the project — even when Rob Marshall stepped in as director — was no surprise. Employing an intelligent and tactful use of Japanese instrumentation within the context of a Western orchestra, Williams' score is gentle and intimate. Williams brought in two virtuoso performers he'd worked with before: violinst Itzhak Perlman who played on Schindler's List and cellist Yo Yo Ma who appeared on Williams' underrated score for Seven Years In Tibet, It is Ma who shines on the film's central piece, Sayuri's Theme, a slow, solemn, simple haunting theme reflecting the grace and sadness inherent in the character's life.

Listen to an excerpt:


Scherzo For Motorcycle And Orchestra
First heard in: Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989)

Even more so than Temple of Doom, Williams kept the Indiana Jones march under the character's battered fedora for the third installment, creating a wide range of themes for the 110 minutes that still feel part of the Indyverse. This chase music is perhaps the best of the bunch, perfectly capturing the series' sense of danger and comedy in the same piece and also skillfully weaving in character motifs — the derring do of Indy, the fussiness of Henry and the evil of the Nazis — into a thrilling ride. Spielberg calls it 'a wild fox hunt'. He's not wrong.

Listen to an excerpt:

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Have Your Say
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Your Comments

1
freaking Lapti Nek is here but no Battle of the Heroes? Can we please stop pretending that the Prequel soundtrack is no good just because RLM doesn't like the films? More

Posted by NeoBrowser on Saturday May 4, 2013, 10:57

2 RE: RE:
Thank you sir. Your kind words will keep me sane when I get locked up for libel! More

Posted by Rob on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 11:22

3 RE: RE:
L: Rob Or more likely Darth Tax-eVader * .gif]ee what I did there?! *for humorous purposes only and in no way shape or form was it meant as a slander on his character. Just mediocre wordplay is all.ote]   py07.gif]py07.gif]   ert of Mirth, I salute you More

Posted by JIm R on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 11:10

4 RE: RE:
Or more likely Darth Tax-eVader * .gif]ee what I did there?! *for humorous purposes only and in no way shape or form was it meant as a slander on his character. Just mediocre wordplay is all. More

Posted by Rob on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 10:51

5 RE:
L: howie71taylor A master composer and what a back catalogue. Did you know Tottenham Hotspur FC walk out to "Duel Of The Fates" for every home game? sp; rry dress up as Darth Maul ? More

Posted by JIm R on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 09:41

6 A true genius
Just about every film he's been involved in has been improved greatly by the soundtrack, sometimes subtle but always worthwhile. A great old fashioned genius, long may he reign as King of the soundtracks. Excellent article :) More

Posted by jamiecfc on Monday February 13, 2012, 15:13

7 Indy's Very First Adventure - The Last Crusade
Cracking cue ploughs along with the train chasing Indy all the way! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 11:10

8 Departure of Boba Fett
Fantastic cue ending in four huge blasts from the whole orchestra - gob-smacking! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 10:59

9 Short Round...
There's a moment in Temple of Doom's end credit music that literally has the Raiders March & Short Round's theme playing AT THE SAME TIME and perfectly complementing each other - how ingenious is that?! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 10:46

10 Gasps of astonishment...
I once played Temple of Doom's Mine Car Chase to a friend of mine - a grade six flautist - she ran out of the room gasping!! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 10:39

11 RE: We're gonna need a bigger list...
With any subjective list, the temptation is to point out anything that's missing, as opposed to what's there. So, let's get mine out of the way now: - Throne Room / Medal Ceremony from A New Hope? Lapti Nek from ROTJ is there but not this glorious piece of pomp and circumstance?! However, this article is one of the best that Empire has ever produced. Very deep research and clear evidence of passion and understanding of Williams' entire career. The temptation would be to go for the obvious, and I reckon I could come up with 80 highlights from Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones alone. Full credit for going beyond the obvious though, and here's another one - the original Lost In Space TV show had a theme tune from John Williams, although then he was still Johnny! My version of the ET soundtrack has Escape / Chase / Saying Goodbye in a beautiful 15min single track that I happened to be listening to when I started reading the Empire homepage today. I'd recommend that everyonMore

Posted by BelfastBoy on Sunday February 12, 2012, 11:19

12 We're gonna need a bigger list...
...but this is a magisterial survey. Superb work by Ian Freer and (presumably) team. I've been here hours, reliving old favourites and making a few rewarding new discoveries too. Thank you to John Williams for so many of the great tunes of my lifetime - and crucially, many happy returns! More

Posted by Dextraneous on Sunday February 12, 2012, 01:01

13 Thank You Empire
What an amazing feature, fitting tribute to someone as massively talented as John Williams More

Posted by james dean on Sunday February 12, 2012, 00:54

14 Wow
the man is amazing.....I will be testing my friends More

Posted by Paddy Kieran on Saturday February 11, 2012, 21:41

15 Thank you so much
Delighted to see The Towering Inferno titles and the Empire asteroid chase on here. Brilliant, thanks. More

Posted by Schnorbitz on Saturday February 11, 2012, 20:10

16 Amazing Feature for an Amazing Man
Ian Freer hats off to you, this is the best feature Empire's ever done, online or off, and I salute your encyclopaedic knowledge of the great man. And what a man. His music has lifted me so high, so often. Magic from start to finish. More

Posted by BondVsPredator on Saturday February 11, 2012, 14:44

17 RE: 80 Reasons Why John Williams Is The Man
Awesome feature Empire! It is a tribute to the Maestro that you can list so many great tracks and there are still bucket loads more that immediately come to mind: the main theme from "Jane Eyre" and the "Lowood" theme; "Cadillac of the Skies" from "Empire of the Sun"; "Dorinda's First Flight" from "Always"; the Main Title from "Dracula"; the "Call of the Crystal" from the last Indiana Jones monstrosity (that we shall mention no further). I bought the double cassette of Star Wars in 1977... then the double fold out LP... then I was hooked. Thanks John Williams for a lifetime of hummable tunes that work for just about every occasion in life! More

Posted by mellowwellowmann on Saturday February 11, 2012, 11:26

18 Thank You
I really enjoyed this. so many memories, so many wonderful pieces of music! More

Posted by orazzak on Saturday February 11, 2012, 10:06

19 A Humble Genius
Having had the pleasure of meeting him many years ago, he was most humble when I thanked him for the joy he he brought to my life. He said it was his pleasure. From Star Wars to War Horse, no one has brought more to the world of film music than John Williams, and may he continue to produce masterpieces for many years to come. Thank you Empire for THE BEST FEATURE EVER!! More

Posted by ddumbell on Saturday February 11, 2012, 04:26

20
A master composer and what a back catalogue. Did you know Tottenham Hotspur FC walk out to "Duel Of The Fates" for every home game? More

Posted by howie71taylor on Saturday February 11, 2012, 03:32

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